There ought to be a law!!!

San Jose to tackle issue of bicyclists with leashed dogs

On the heels of a deadly freak accident, San Jose is exploring a law to make the city the first in California — and possibly the country — to address the issue of bicyclists riding with leashed dogs.

Councilwoman Nancy Pyle is convening a meeting Wednesday night to gauge public opinion on whether the city should clamp down in some way to prevent what happened to Beverly Head on Sept. 16. The retired 62-year-old San Jose phlebotomist died after she hit her head when she got tangled up in a dog leash while walking along a popular South San Jose trail. The dog in question was one of two pets being pulled alongside a bicyclist.

Her death has raised a passionate debate among trail users. And, urged by Head’s grief-stricken husband, Pyle’s office is studying whether the current laws regarding the safety of the city’s trails are enough. Current code mandates that owners must keep their dogs “under control” at all times, and kept on leashes of up to 20 feet in city parks.

“I’d like them to prohibit bicycles on pathways that pull dogs,” Bob Head said on Monday, moments before he took off on a bike ride himself. “For the safety of walkers, and for the safety of small dogs that get pulled along and can’t keep up.”

Pyle’s office has been getting calls and e-mails with “lots of interesting ideas,” said Kathy Sullivan, Pyle’s chief of staff. “And this is such an emotional issue, we just want to hear from people.”

Jon Cicirelli, deputy director of the city’s Animal Care and Services, researched all over the state, from San Francisco to Venice Beach in Los Angeles, to see if there is anything on the books that speaks to banning bicyclists from riding alongside leashed pets.“There’s nothing,” he said. “Nobody’s ever heard of this happening before. Whatever we do, we’ll be breaking ground on this issue.”

Cicirelli said his first thought is not to ban bicyclists from riding with their pets, per se.

Rather, he says it might be better to beef up the current leash laws mandating that owners must not only keep their dog under control, but extend that responsibility to the leash, too.

He quickly added, though, that because there is no law that he can find on the topic, he’s open to all ideas.

And there are plenty of ideas percolating out there — especially from the Los Alamitos Creek trail where a white memorial cross now marks the spot where Head hit her head. She was bleeding but conscious after the fall, and even spoke with the bicyclist who stayed until paramedics came. But she died at the hospital the next day, and the bicyclist, whose name is unknown, isn’t considered a suspect because police have ruled the death an accident.

“No little doggies should be tied up to bicycles,” said Marilyn Holmes, 60, who walks the trails and plans to attend the meeting. “I want designated lanes for bicycles only. No doggies. Anyone who is caught should be fined.”

But while fines and enforcement may sound good, would they really be effective?

Cliff Reyda, 65, who was out walking on the trail recently, isn’t so sure.

“People who walk their dogs on leashes can have this happen, too,” he said. “There’s no real solution. If you enact a law, then all of a sudden, it becomes an anti-dog position.”

Al Nolan, 59, isn’t anti-anything, but he does want stricter separation on the path between slower walkers like himself and speedy bicyclists.

“They need a dedicated bike run, like a carpool lane,” he said, just as a mountain biker whizzed by him and his dog, Indi.

Then there’s trail users like Terri Gong, who is out often enough with her mutt, Coco, that she could recognize both Beverly Head and the cyclist in question.

She usually doesn’t like when government intervenes in the lives of ordinary citizens. But in this case, she said, there’s a need for it.

“I’m darn near a Libertarian,” Gong said. “But at the very least, bikers should have their dogs on the right.”

10 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    “I’d like them to prohibit bicycles on pathways that pull dogs,” Bob Head said.

    I’ve never seen a pathway that pulls a dog, although I’ve seen dogs pulling bicycles and the rider, and I’ve seen riders on bicycles pulling dogs.

    Why does there need to be a law specific to an activity such as this when it really boils down to individual responsibility. Aren’t there personal injury attorneys chasing this guy down on behalf of the estate?

    At least the authorities are considering other options beyond passing another law.

  2. rodney
    rodney says:

    Can’t tell from the post if the user was able to see the incursion about to happen or if the cyclist came from behind.

    Come on people…..let’s reign in some common sense here. Ask yourself….would I want something that could literally rip me off my bicycle and cause injury to myself or others?

    Distracted cycling, unsafe operation, you bet! Imagine for a moment, your dog abruptly stops, you are clipped in, and you fall smashing your melon.

    Let’s not forget about the other users of the paths/trails. There are a lot of boneheaded users on our trails here in Orlando, walkers, runners, AND cyclists.

    How about enacting some personal responsibility instead of laws for a change.

    IMOO, if you want to be a bonehead and take your dog on a leash while you ride, then do so where you aren’t a menace to others. Be sure to have your Darwin Award nomination submitted before you leave.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    It’s easy to say biking with a dog is stupid and dangerous. Was this an expandable leash, up to 20 feet or a leash of 6 feet or less?? How fast was the biker going?? I really dislike the expandable leashes, as most owners do not use them properly and it gives a false sense of security. I think the problem here is a lack of sensibility on the part of the biker to not properly consider his dogs safety and the safety of others. It’s easy to pass judgment and call people names without all the facts.

    My wife and I take our dog for runs along side the bike all the time. He is a 80+ pound German Shepherd and is trained to walk/run beside the person and/or bike at all times. No problems. We always give people plenty of clearance and notice and the dog is on a 6 foot leather leash and he normally is never more than a few feet from the bike. Plus we always SLOW DOWN when nearing other people.

  4. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    I am astonished that Councilwoman Nancy Pyle is squandering her office’s energy and that of Jon Cicirelli, deputy director of the city’s Animal Care and Services division, on such an issue!

    It is absurd to think that a law is needed to mitigate such a rare event. When I list all the possible perils I face in the public spaces, I am not even sure “being tripped by a dog on a leash” would make the list. (Note my list would include the extremely unlikely event of a tree limb falling whilst I was under it!)

    The world is not safe. Sadly, laws cannot make it so.

    Perhaps the reason this would be the first ordinance to address the issue is that it is so trivial that all other legislative bodies in the state found other more important things to spend their time on. Surly that would be true in your case too, Ms. Pyle, wouldn’t it?

  5. Chris
    Chris says:

    More dangerous are joggers with MP3 players with the volume so high they cannot here anything, then decide to dart across the path to turn around without checking behind them.

  6. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    On ChipSeal’s thoughts …….. for me, this comes down to — can you/should you legislate civility??

    If everyone was passing each other with care (and at low speed) then this probably would not have happened in the first place. End of story.

  7. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    It is, of course, untrue that “nobody” has dealt with this issue before. In The Netherlands, the law allows a maximum of one dog to be walked attached to a bike. Two or more dogs are illegal.

    It is common to use a “springer” device to attach the dog to the bike, as otherwise the dog’s unexpected motion could cause the bike to crash.

    For details, see the bike equipped with a “springer” at:

  8. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Wait just a gol durn second. What about walkers whose dogs topple and sometimes kill cyclists? This is a much bigger problem. Or cyclists who get hurt when they run into wildlife along trails? Also a bigger problem -one that I almost experienced myself with an armadillo.

    The OBVIOUS solution is to ban bikes from trails. Those scofflaws really ought to be on the streets anyway with the rest of the wheeled stuff. It’s for their own safety!

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